Archives for category: montana

Here’s what I love about these mysterious diaries: our lady writer drops an intriguing hint that reveals 1920s life, before bringing the focus back to her own personal life.

“Sat. March 18

Ruth made preparations for going home.

Esther Nelson came up in forenoon & brot me a box of candy to pay her bet.  Glen came about 10:30 & Esther & he were both here for dinner.

Mama was busy all day long.

Mrs. McDonald & Mrs. Andrews came to see the Baby in afternoon.

Lovely day but so muddy.

Randalls & Jay went to the dance over at Rubys.

The Dr. came in the morning.  Elmer & Howard Carroll was here a little while in P.m.

In evening Jay & Randalls went to a Spiritualist Lecture.

Baby had the colic all evening.

Beautiful Day.”

What grabs my attention this time is the Spiritualist Lecture.  From the late 1800s and into the Great Depression, the entire western world was obsessed with spiritualism.  Séances were conducted to communicate with the spirits: sometimes famous people, but mostly the beloved dead.  Like midwifery, spiritualism was carried out by lay people who were mostly women–so guess what?  It was roundly condemned by established churches (reminds me of the Harry Potter kerfuffle 10 years ago).

Clearly, 1920s Montanans were intrigued by spiritualism– even a young rancher like our diarist’s husband Jay.  The killing fields of World War I (or the Great War) and the horrific influenza pandemic were barely four years past, and so many people had ‘crossed over’.

A cool blog about spiritualism in California during the roaring ’20s: http://steampunkopera.wordpress.com/2013/04/04/los-angeles-and-the-1920s-occult-explosion/

Advertisements

I’m impressed by this new mother’s ability to write two lengthy diary entries the day after she gave birth!  Of course, she had plenty of help with the newborn, the next entries show a busy, noisy household with Mama, Sister Ruth and (boyfriend? ranch hand?) Glen, Husband/father Jay, and plenty of visitors to view the newcomer:

“Thur. Mar. 16

Baby Dorma’s Birthday after all was over about 4 a.m. every one went to bed

All the household was tired out that is the ladies.

All the occupants here & Mrs. La chon was in to see us.

Mama had headache & so did I.  Ruby was over in p.m.

Ruth & Glen went to the show in evening & Ruth had her teeth fixed in afternoon.

Fri. Mar. 17

Dorma cried most of the night so Mama & Ruth were entertained.

Ruth did the washing & Jay helped what he could.

In P.m. Glen came up & about five-thirty he & Ruth went down town to dinner & Pantages.

Baby had colic until awfully late in the night & Mama had the headache.

Glen got baby a little ‘shopping bag’ & some ‘candy.’”

So our new mom has some energy left for sarcasm (a screaming baby as entertainment: Jay’s inept attempts at washing: and Glen’s gifts of a shopping bag and candy to an infant only a few hours old.)  I’m liking this lady more and more!

After my grim exploration of the fate of poor Joe Vuckovich–the hanged man who barely rates a sentence in our mysterious Diary–it is almost a relief to turn to something a little lighter.  Our diarist continues to live a quiet life here in Missoula as she waits, along with her mother and a young woman named Ruth who I’m reasonably sure is her sister.

“Mon. Feb. 20                  1922

Ruth washed in the evening & I fussed around as usual.  In p.m. I took a little nap & then we went down town.  To the Donahue Dollar sale & got a little Blanket for Baby & a pair of shoes for Mama.  Stopped at Mrs. A. on our way home.  Ruth had the headache all afternoon.  Got a letter from Colette & Mrs. Holcomb.

I spent the evening down stairs.”

Let’s talk a little about shoe-shopping.  Women’s shoes back then cost about $5, give or take.  So if our diarist scored a pair of shoes for $1 she got a deal!  Below is an ad for Sears Roebuck & Co. showing shoes in fashion about three years after this diary entry.

Image

I wouldn’t want to negotiate the snowy streets of Missoula in any of these, would you?  Our diarist and her family undoubtedly had galoshes in the closet of their rented house.  If you feel like a dose of 1920s fashion I found this ad at http://glamourdaze.com/2010/05/1920s-fashion-womens-dress-and-style.html.  Enjoy!

Galloping Gertie Gallows, Montana Territorial Prison

These gallows were a special moveable or ‘galloping’ model that could be moved from site to site. The gallows used in the execution of Joe Vuckovich and a number of other people in Missoula were probably stationary, but this photo taken at the territorial prison in Deerlodge MT captures the menace of these machines.

Photo taken from a fascinating blog about unusual prisons, you should check it out:  http://www.oddarena.com/2011/12/worlds-strangest-prisons.html

Out of the blue comes this diary entry:

“Fri. Feb. 17.

Poor old Volchavitch hung at 6:15 in the a.m.

I stamped a little dress over. And Ruth worked on a new cap for me.

In p.m. Ruth bathed & we just got cleaned up when Esther nelson came.  She stayed until about 4:30 then we went down town for our walk & got medicine for me & turpentine for Ruth’s side.

Nice warm day.  Snowed a little.”

It may have been modern 1922 with streetcars, movie theatres, and department stores — but this is a shade of the wild west I find chilling, as is our pregnant young diarist’s matter-of-fact description.

Who was poor old Volchavitch, and why did they hang him?  My first step was, of course to search the internet…first, his name was really Joe Vuckovich.  The historic records agree with our diarist; he was hanged on what became a nice warm day, Feb. 17.  Though I doubt it was very warm on those gallows in the pre-dawn blackness of the old jail yard in Montana winter.

Mystery and Melancholy of a Street: Downtown Missoula, MT on a winter's eve

Beautiful shot of Streetcar #50, now restored, plying the snowy streets sometime in the 1920s. Our diarist probably climbed aboard plenty of times while she stayed in town, waiting to have her baby.

Check out http://fortmissoulamuseum.org/index.php to learn more about this streetcar.

Our diarist and her Mama sewed so much for the coming baby, and themselves, that their eyes ached!  It must have invigorating, to say the least, to leave their stuffy rooms for the cold streets of downtown Missoula in search of food, friends, and after-Christmas sales.

“Sat. Jan. 21.

I emb. most all day for a.m.

Mama cut out a few new garments in p.m.  I went down stairs and looked for emb. patterns part of p.m.  Mama felt so bum & her head ached so much we layed down a little while then went down town for an airing.

Mrs Muckler & Virginia also Mrs. Nelson & Esther called in Evening.

My Dr. came also but late.  I had toast & soft egg for B. a little rice, potator & venison cooked fine together for dinner & Oatmeal for supper.

Alway milk to drink.”

Missoula probably seemed like a big town to her, but it numbered only 12,688 souls in 1920 (two years before).  Even today we haven’t hit the 67,000 mark yet.  Image

This shot facing north along the Higgins Bridge shows the city ran on steam heat–note the smokestacks.  The riverbanks, now Caras Park, were weedy lots that probably flooded every spring–the Corps of Engineers hadn’t built the levees yet.  The beloved Wilma Theatre, where our diarist may have gone to see a silent movie, shows its familiar pale beige side, and telephone line spaghetti is much in evidence.

See the streetcar?  Missoula pioneered the one-man operated trolley (first in the U.S.!)  I could swear that the narrow walkways on either side haven’t changed: there is still only room enough for two (not very chubby) people to squeeze past each other.  But it keeps us Missoulians friendly.

To travel back in time and hear a bit of city life in the 1920s, check out this wonderful audio project featured on  http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/10/22/239870539/the-sounds-of-new-york-city-circa-1920.  Yes, New York was a little bit bigger — but it gives you the feel.

Sexy 1920s Kimono modelled by Louise Brooks

When I was little I wanted to look just like silent screen star Louise Brooks, the “Kansas Cleopatra.” Isn’t she just the ‘bees knees’ in this kimono? I wonder if Mama had this glamor shot in mind when designing her own handmade version.

Photo from a neat blog on antique fashion, check it out: http://www.merchantarchive.com/blog/post/hello-kimono/

As I peruse our mystery diarist’s entries it’s clear that she and her Mama were sewing up a storm.  Sewing is a fine activity for the cold dark days in January up here in the north.  Here are some entries:

“Mon. Jan. 16.

Ray came up in the morning in a car & Mama & I rode back to our apartment then we went downtown.  Got some outing flannel, two little dresses, & a coat for baby. In p.m. we were busy fixing patterns & Mama cutt out a skirt & kimona. I worked on putting the little emb. dress together. We got a little stuff for our hats & in evening I fixed my hat. Opal came after school & stayed all nite.

Terrible windy & snowing cold.

Letters from Home.

Tue. Jan. 17.

Turned hemms & made didies in a.m.”  (Didies?  Our heroine sews her own diapers!)

“P.m. Mama took them downstairs & stitched them & I sewed.

Howard called a few moments. Ruth called up about 4:30.

Got a pkg. of white goods. Opal stayed all night.

Wed. Jan. 18.                                                                        1922

Wrote letters to Corlett and did odd little sewing & Mama made or started an odd little kimona & underskirt. We went down town in p.m. & it was colder than the Dickens, coldest night this winter.

Mrs. McDonnell spent the evening with us & Mrs. Day was up awhile.

Cold.”

Kimona: not a garment I would associate with the American West in the 1920s, much less in a Montana winter.  But this will teach me to respect the power and reach of fashion…  Kimonos, or at least an American version of them, were all the rage in 1922 from coast to coast.  Mama is clearly a devotee of the latest styles!  Image

Maybe she used a pattern like this one…

So, it’s A-okay to have a treat when you’re expecting and even better when the doctor prescribes it!  Some more entries from our mystery diary:

“Thur. Jan. 12

Jay & I got out about day light. Had a time getting the fire to go so did not have our breakfast very pronto. Jay cut up quite a lot of the wood & packed some upstairs. Got his tradeing done before dinner & left for home about 2 p.m. I surely hated to see him go but tried to be a good girl & not a baby.

Mama & I went down town about four P.M. & saw the Dr. He told me to try Oyster soup & Bananas so hurrah for me we had Oyster soup for supper.

Bright but cool.”

It was a big deal to have your husband leave, when home was nine hours away across the snowy Montana plains.  I hope our lady diarist got some comfort from her fancy soup.  Oysters are pretty scarce in Montana now, I can imagine how expensive they were in ’22.

Here’s a recipe for ‘old fashioned’ oyster soup, posted at http://hambycatering.com/blog/old-fashioned-oyster-stew/.  It’s pretty much like all the old recipes out there for this dish:

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 12-16 ounces standard-size oysters with liquid
  • 1 quart half-and-half
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 (14-ounce) box oyster crackers

“Melt butter in a heavy saucepan.  Add oysters and cook over low heat just until edges curl.  Slowly add half-and-half and heat gently.  Do not boil.  Add salt and pepper.  Serve steaming hot with oyster crackers.”